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U.S. Refuses to Let Terror Suspect Testify in Germany

Alleged Sept. 11 coordinator could help determine whether defendant aided attacks.

January 08, 2003|Dirk Laabs | Special to The Times

HAMBURG, Germany — The Justice Department has again refused to allow Al Qaeda suspects in U.S. custody to testify in the trial here of a Moroccan man accused of providing logistical support to the Sept. 11 hijackers, the judge in the case said Tuesday.

The defendant, Mounir Motassadeq, is charged with helping to kill about 3,000 people.

The prosecution has presented a largely circumstantial case showing Motassadeq's association with the hijackers when they lived in Germany. But it has had difficulty presenting any evidence showing that he had direct knowledge of the Sept. 11 plot. Ramzi Binalshibh, a suspected coordinator of the attacks, is in U.S. custody and presumably knows whether Motassadeq was directly involved.

Judge Albrecht Mentz formally asked the U.S. government to allow Binalshibh and others to testify last fall. The Justice Department gave its response -- an unequivocal no -- Thursday, two months after the request was made. The department had already rejected a previous request.

The U.S. letter, which offered little explanation for the rejection, was read in court Tuesday.

Binalshibh was arrested in the Pakistani city of Karachi last September. He was under indictment in Germany at the time, and not in the United States, but the Germans nonetheless surrendered any claim to him.

U.S. authorities have declined to testify at the Motassadeq trial about what Binalshibh has told them in interrogations. The one FBI agent who testified at the trial declined to answer any specific questions about Binalshibh or much of the specifics of the Sept. 11 plot.

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